Air-con: hot topic demands cool heads


A strata scheme not a million miles from where I sit is facing a very modern quandary – how do they deal with global warming when it gets real but air-con just adds to the problem?

Now, if you are one of these people who say “the jury is out” on man-made climate change – because only 99 percent of the world’s scientists believe in it, and a few self-seeking politicians and loud-mouth commentators deny it – stop reading now.

Oh … they already have.

OK,  here’s the issue.  You take a building that has won major global environmental awards for its cross-ventilation and its by-laws limiting air-conditioning to only 10 out of more than 100 apartments.

However, these days there’s a growing number of complaints that it just gets too hot inside the units at the height of summer.

The cross-ventilation simply doesn’t work in some apartments and others don’t want to leave their windows open because of the noise (and don’t get me started on barbecue smoke).

“Real estate agents say we could make more money when we sell our apartments if we had air con,” say some – and I’ll stop them right there. If you’ll get less when you sell your unit, it means you spent less when you bought it, so that argument doesn’t fly.

However, there’s the small matter of the planet getting hotter.  Since the turn of the millennium, there hasn’t been a single month that didn’t experience record temperatures, year after year.

Only last week a study in Scandinavia said that heatwaves were twice as likely to happen because of global warming.

So something has changed significantly since this building was designed and built two decades ago. But if the residents all install air-con, won’t that just contribute to global warming?  Of course, it will – that additional electricity has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is probably coal-fired.

And will they have to hand back their Environmental awards like Olympic athletes who turn out to be drug cheats?

However, there’s an even more fundamental economic problem in this particular block: having been designed to be groovy and green, the building’s power supply and wiring was never intended to run 100 or more air-conditioners.

If they tear up their environmental credentials and bring the wiring for the whole block up to speed, all the owners will be faced with an additional charge of an extra quarter’s levies (and a bit more)– whether individuals want air-con or not.

It’s funny how your environmental concerns melt away when the thermometer goes over 30, but it’s also amazing how much discomfort you can endure when your hip pocket starts throbbing.

And again, the economic argument is not as simple as it may seem.  Will the cost of the rewiring, plus the installation of the individual air-con systems, be offset by the added value to the apartments, especially in a slowing market?

In any case, will the additional profit be diminished by the loss of the environmental kudos? However, what price a good night’s sleep on a hot still night?

For what it’s worth, I doubt if this will attract the 75 percent vote required to get the necessary by-law changes over the line.

But if your block is facing similar demands to confront the immediate effects of global warming by making it worse, there’s an interesting post on strata lawyer David Bannerman’s website.

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